Washington Court Of Appeals Determines When Records Have Been "Produced" Under Public Records Act To Trigger Statute Of Limitations
In White v. City of Lakewood, No. 47079-9-II (May 25, 2016), Division II of the Washington Court of Appeals applied a form of “mailbox rule” to the state Public Records Act (PRA) in defining when records have been “produced” sufficient to trigger the PRA’s one-year statute of limitations. Additionally, the Court reiterated that the statute of limitations is not triggered by an invalid claim of exemption.
White filed three public records requests with the City of Lakewood for documents pertaining to a search warrant. The city withheld responsive records pursuant to the categorical exemption for open and active police investigations under RCW 42.56.240 and Newman v. King County, 133 Wn.2d 565, 947 P.2d 712 (1997), although it later produced certain documents. White filed suit challenging the city’s response to all three requests.
First, the Court of Appeals held that White’s claims regarding his first PRA request were not time-barred. Because the city had admitted to the Court at oral argument that its police investigation was not, in fact, active, it had improperly invoked the Newman exemption. Accordingly, the one-year statute of limitations was not triggered by the city’s invalid claim of exemption, pursuant to Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound v. City of Des Moines, 165 Wn.2d 525, 199 P.3d 393 (2009).
Next, the Court considered the statute of limitations as to White’s second PRA request. RCW 42.56.550(6) requires that a PRA action “must be filed within one year of the agency’s claim of exemption or the last production of a record on a partial or installment basis.” In construing when records have been “produced” under the statute, the Court determined that the statute of limitations is triggered when the agency “brings all of the documents together and makes that collection of documents available to a delivery service for delivery to the requestor.” Slip Op. at p. 13. In White’s case, his claims were time-barred because the city had placed the letter and responsive records in the city’s outgoing mailbox more than one year prior to White bringing suit.
The Court of Appeals then remanded the case to the superior court for consideration of the proper penalty to be awarded White based on the city’s improper response to his first and third PRA requests.